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Passion with a purpose

May 9, 2019

Forged by his foster childhood, Oxford scholar Frank Smith III wants to pave a better path for others through public service career

Frank Smith III arrived at Arizona State University knowing what he planned to be when he grew up.

“I joke with my friends that I wanted to be the next Ryan Seacrest,” says Smith, a Mesa, Arizona, native who was initially drawn to ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

That changed several months later, and so did the trajectory of Smith’s academic career.

A discussion with fellow students during Smith’s freshman year led to him testifying on behalf of an Arizona state bill to abolish tuition fees for former foster children. The bill passed, and the experience flipped a switch.

“When I had the opportunity to go down to the state Legislature, I saw that I enjoyed being in the policy discussions and really being a part of the change, as opposed to being on the outside,” Smith says. “I really wanted to be on the inside, where the action was.”

Now, public service is his passion, and it has taken the 2018 ASU graduate to the University of Oxford in England, where he is a Marshall Scholar studying for a Master of Philosophy degree in comparative social policy.

“It’s about doing everything I can to make my community better,” Smith says. “What’s going to improve the outcomes of the most disadvantaged members of society, and what can I do to help them out? It’s about putting the needs of the community above my own. How can I be a tool of change?”

Frank Smith III

Frank Smith III credits friends and mentors for helping him succeed and "start giving back to the community that has given so much to me." Photo by Aaron Kotowski 

The answer to those questions could be by making something factual of the fiction that was Frank Capra’s classic 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington,” starring Jimmy Stewart as a newly appointed U.S. senator who works tirelessly against corruption.

“A few professors from undergrad mentioned that before my internship in D.C.,” Smith says. “And even more people started saying that to me when I said I wanted to have a career on the Hill.”

Leaving behind ambitions of becoming a TV star, the real Mr. Smith went to Washington in 2016 as an intern on Capitol Hill in the education office of Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and worked with the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

He also traveled to Mexico and Ghana for research and volunteer trips. He then paused for a semester to work on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign team in Michigan. When that finished, he returned to Arizona to work on David Garcia’s 2018 race for governor.

Smith has a plan for going back to Washington.

“I’d like to take what I learn back to Capitol Hill,” he says, “try to work my way up to be a senior policy adviser or a chief of staff in some way that I can utilize the knowledge that I’m gaining and to be an advocate of foster care reform.”

A foster child himself, Smith didn’t lack for motivation to take up his cause. By the age of 17 he had lived in 27 foster homes.

“Stability was definitely not part of my childhood,” Smith says. “Honestly, life was hard growing up. I spent most of my adolescence in extreme poverty, which typically results in untapped potential, a lifetime of closed doors and often insurmountable obstacles. Through the support of social services, scholarships, mentors and a considerable amount of determination, I have been able to start giving back to the community that has given so much to me.”

But far from a handicap, he sees his experience as the fuel for his fire in beating incredible odds — only 10% of former foster children reach university, and just 3% graduate. “Because of my upbringing, there’s one more advocate for foster care reform,” he says. “It’s really unlocked some of my potential.”

ASU provided scholarship support to help Smith unlock that potential. He entered the university as an Armstrong Scholar, an Obama Scholar, a Spirit of Service Scholar and a Nina Mason Pulliam Scholar. His help in passing Arizona’s Foster Care Tuition Waiver earned him the Truman and Marshall scholarships, the capstone of an accomplished academic career.

In his sophomore year, Smith was elected the youngest student body president ever at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, and he was reelected for a second term. After focusing on public service in his studies, he graduated in 2018 with two bachelor’s degrees — in political science and public service/public policy with a concentration in business.

Now, Smith is expanding his worldview at Oxford, having learned that public policy shouldn’t be confined to border lines drawn on maps.

“What’s really interesting about the (philosophy) program is that it takes an international perspective to issues that are traditionally seen as domestic policies — health care, education, pensions, labor market policies,” Smith says. “It tries to look beyond the borders of one nation.”

Smith also wants people to look beyond negative stereotypes associated with the foster care system.

“When people hear about foster care, they think, ‘Oh, this child was a delinquent. They got involved with the criminal justice system,’” he says. “My past has not only instilled a sense of compassion and empathy within me at an early age, but has given me a firsthand view of the inequalities in America, which I would like to spend the rest of my life improving through a career in public service.”

Written by Telford Vice, a London-based journalist who has written for ESPN websites, Reuters News Agency and the Guardian newspaper, and also has broadcast for the BBC. Top photo by Darren Rees. This article originally appeared in the summer 2019 issue of ASU Thrive magazine. 

Golden grad reflects on dynamic career, journey back to ASU and what has changed in 50 years

May 6, 2019

Anniversaries are ways to mark milestones and reflect on the years and accomplishments that occur between them. A 50th anniversary is a particularly momentous occasion, one that has been long affiliated with the precious metal gold. This year, a faculty member in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions is celebrating his golden anniversary as an alumnus of Arizona State University.

From an eager undergrad to an adviser to some of the highest offices in local government, Geoffrey Gonsher, a professor of practice in ASU’s School of Public Affairs, has built an impressive resume over the last five decades. In 2010, he added his role as faculty to the list — a position he never pictured himself holding but now one he holds dear. Geoffrey Gonsher graduation photo from 50 yrs ago, wearing black cap and gown and thick, black rimmed glasses Geoffrey Gonsher's graduation photo from 1969.

We asked him to share a bit about his journey, his memories of ASU and his insights for today’s grads.

Question: When you left ASU 50 years ago, did you ever imagine you’d be back in this capacity?

Answer: No. Although I was confident of my knowledge about government and politics when I received my undergraduate and my graduate degrees in political science, I never viewed teaching as my career path. I saw myself as a public policy person working for elected officials and government agencies. It was after my friend Professor Martin Vanacour asked me to step in to replace a professor who dropped out of a course in 2010 that I gained the confidence and ability to plan and present academic and professional information on a regular basis to students. I am thankful for that opportunity and wish I had done it sooner.

Q: Where has your degree taken you since graduation day?

A: My degrees have taken me to the heights of public policy success and to the depths of political conflict. I have worked as a public policy adviser, cabinet member, agency executive and speechwriter for over 30 elected officials — 15 republicans and 15 democrats. I held executive management positions in the administrations of Arizona Governors Rose Mofford, Fife Symington, Jane Hull and Janet Napolitano and served on the staff of Phoenix Mayors Margaret Hance and Timothy Barrow. In addition, I was the head of several state agencies, including the Arizona Lottery, Department of Racing and Boxing, Corporation Commission, Governor’s Division of Workforce Development and the Department of Weights and Measures.

Geoffrey Gonsher wearing dark blue suit, with bluch graphic tie and glasses)

Geoffrey Gonsher 

Q: From your perspective, how has ASU changed over the last 50 years? 

A: It has both changed and remained the same. What is consistent is the passionate activism of students. During my undergraduate days, it was the civil rights movement, the anti-war period, the generation gap, the marijuana counterculture, the space race, the sexual revolution and the beginnings of the women’s movement. Today, students are actively involved in immigration issues, minority interests, LGBTQ rights, climate control, poverty, women’s equality and many other societal problems. The issues have changed, but the commitment and fervor are just as strong.   

What has changed is for the good. When I look at 58 pages of graduates in the 1969 annual, there are only about two dozen students of color, which was about .048% of the graduating class. Today, our multicultural university is a leader across the country in accepting, supporting and graduating students who represent every community and demographic in America. Good for ASU and Arizona!

Q:  What is one of your most memorable ASU experiences — from now or when you attended?

A: Graduation night when I saw my father cry. He had come from a difficult home environment on the streets of New York, through World War II, as an undereducated worker in the fields outside Phoenix, to a factory worker who raised his sons to be good men with a strong work ethic to do more and better than he had accomplished in his life. It always reminds me to do what I can for my students as my father did for me.

Q: What advice would you give to students graduating in 2019?

A: My advice is not to focus on your salary, your title or your job in your career. Just do your work. People will notice and respect that. Do not spend time plotting your next promotion, raise or job. If you are conscientious, dedicated, thorough and fair in all your professional dealings, people will recognize your talent and your value. The promotions and raises will happen when you least expect them and more often than if you were to plan them out. Before you know it, you will be the person in charge and making these decisions for others.

Lisa Rolland-Keith

Communications Specialist, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


On the border, grad hopes to make a difference in immigration policy

May 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Joanna Williams didn’t travel lightly on her purposeful journey to earning a master’s degree in public policy, and she’s leaving Arizona State University with more than a diploma. The director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) said she now has greater means to promote policies that respect the rights and dignity of migrants. Joanna Williams (light complexion, dark brown hair, wearing teal embroidered blouse and teal dangle earrings) smiles in front of Downtown Phoenix campus Joanna Williams, who is building a national reputation for her scholarship and fieldwork on migration, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions. Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

“I’ve seen through my master’s all the tools and best practices and other dimensions I think we can apply to our advocacy,” Williams said. “I’m really excited to implement that at KBI.”

Williams, who is building a national reputation for her scholarship and fieldwork on migration, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

KBI is a binational organization on the U.S.-Mexico border that serves deported migrants and asylum seekers through humanitarian aid, education, research and advocacy. Williams, who has practiced empathy for migrants since her childhood days in Denver, joined the staff in 2015. She has gotten to know people at different stages in their journey both in the United States as well as at the border.

“I care really deeply about them as friends and neighbors and brothers and sisters,” she said.

Williams first arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border by way of Georgetown University, where she first learned about the Kino Border Initiative as an undergraduate student in 2010. Georgetown sponsored her on a weeklong KBI immersion program.

She went to Georgetown with thoughts of becoming an immigration lawyer. But a career at the border held more appeal than a career in a Washington, D.C., office. She said a mentor told her there was nothing wrong with going to the border and loving people there. Her career focus shifted from becoming a lawyer who upholds laws to a position with an opportunity to influence the making of policy and laws.

For Williams, to spend time doing something other than concentrate on her work at KBI, ASU had to offer something special, and it did. She said she leaves the program with a better understanding of policy analysis and the political calculations in developing policy alternatives. That’s especially helpful on a subject as intense as immigration, she said.

Williams brought to the master’s program her life experiences of growing up in Denver attending school with children of immigrants from Mexico, coming of age as a high school volunteer teaching English to refugees and several years of scholarly work on immigration issues in Mexico and Central America, including stints as a Truman and Fulbright scholar. At ASU, she was a Barrett Endowed Scholarship recipient.

Completing course credits for her master’s degree involved at least 150 hours commuting to Phoenix from her home in Tucson and her work in Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. There was also the challenge of balancing a demanding job with the commitments of graduate study. The past two years have been exhausting, but she said appreciates the dialectic between the intensity of her work and school, where she had time to “reflect and think more deeply.”

In graduate school, she continued her history of producing results from solid research. She was part of an independent study that developed orientation materials in a train-the-trainer model, which helps information about asylum reach people while they are still in Central America. The initiative provides the information before potential migrants invest significant financial resources and puts their lives in danger to reach the border.

Williams said she also enjoyed global development courses that informed her thinking about bigger-picture issues surrounding the movement of people.

“I believe that global development, especially from the perspective of business and sustainable industries, is critical to addressing the root causes of migration,” Williams said. “In a similar vein, scientific research in areas of sustainability and climate change is an important piece of addressing these challenges.”

Earning her master’s degree may conclude Williams’ robust research career. Her focus now is on carrying out the vision of KBI. While that, no doubt, will require additional research, Williams says she now sees herself in different roles.

“Maybe I’m not a researcher who’s carrying out the whole project, but I can set some of those visions and manage a bit of the research,” Williams said. “I think there’s a lot that we don’t know, and that information can help us better understand the implications of policy, better understand the options for support.”

Earning her master’s degree to advance her life’s work also is in keeping with Williams’ personal quest to be “grounded by the commitment to be humbly growing in love.”

“People throw out the word 'love' a lot, in a casual sense,” Williams said. “What I’ve really come to understand is the commitment and responsibility that comes with love. Love is much more than an emotion. It’s a dedication to somebody’s well-being. I’m still trying to figure out what that looks like.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Criminal justice grad's research on trouble spots in policing gives her hope

May 5, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Katharine Leigh Brown loves and values the criminal justice system. She even entertained thoughts of becoming a police officer. Katharine (with brown hair and white floral blouse) stands in front of ASU Downtown campus “I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Katharine Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.” Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

But Brown’s love is not blind and unquestioning. She is acutely aware of policing issues, particularly with regards to marginalized people, that need attention for the sake of police officers and the communities they serve.

“There are practices in policing I see that could use changes, and as of now we don’t have clear answers to what the best changes are,” said Brown of Palmdale, California.

Brown is on the case. She wants her research on fairness and police-citizen interaction to unlock mysteries of how and why the criminal justice system does what it does and how to make that system better for everyone.

“I have a really big passion for policing and helping the policing system,” Brown said. “As much as I love and value the system, [there are] injustices with marginalized communities, particularly the poor and the homeless. I just want to contribute and help make it better if I can.”

Brown is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

While an undergraduate student studying sociology at the University of California-San Diego, Brown worked as a first responder, a civilian position, in the university police department. She thought she was on a path to become a police officer but decided to add another possible alternative by applying for a spot in the criminal justice master’s program at Arizona State University.

At ASU, she learned she loves research, and her professional interests switched from the academy to academia. Her plans now are to be a career researcher instead of a career police officer.

“What threw me into the research side is realizing there are so many questions that I want answered, and there are so many ways I want to help police departments and officers,” Brown said. “I really think I can have a lot of opportunities to do so as a researcher.”

Brown, a first-generation college graduate, is a scholar of procedural justice. As a graduate research assistant, she worked with Assistant Professor Cody Telep in evaluating efforts by a police department in California to better approach the homeless.

Her master’s thesis research on the influence of officer gender grew from her push for valuing women and their role in the criminal justice system. She will present her research at the American Society of Criminology's annual meeting this November.

“Women are awesome,” Brown said. “They are undervalued. We need to do more research on them because they are amazing.”

While pursuing her doctoral degree at ASU, Brown will continue looking at criminology and the criminal justice system with an emphasis on fairness and process with marginalized communities. Her research will focus on evidence-based policing and procedural justice in a quest to create effective and fair policies that improve relationships between police and communities and implement tactics that make officers safer.

She expects her future research could go in many directions. For example, her interests in gender and crime could lead to an investigation of how things like access to health care for marginalized and poor women may contribute to disparate outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Brown’s research to date on trouble spots in policing gives her hope.

“When you study marginalized populations, when you hear about frequently or see frequently how marginalized populations have had bad interactions with the criminal justice system, it’s disheartening,” Brown said.

“Seeing my fellow students and the professors doing such important work, I think it made me more positive in that I feel like we can help as a population. There’s more we can do and that people are already doing. It’s going to take work and it’s going to take time, but there are things being done.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

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Schools, communities tackling food insecurity but policy changes needed, experts say

ASU forum highlights complex issue of improving family diets in South Phoenix.
May 3, 2019

ASU forum on family nutrition in South Phoenix highlights complex issue

Improving the quality of food for families in South Phoenix will likely require many changes, ranging from policy updates at the federal level to a stronger focus on culture at the family level, according to a group of experts who tackled the issue last week.

“Feeding Families” was a panel discussion sponsored by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center at Arizona State University, which held the event at the Verna McClain Wellness Center in South Phoenix.

The Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center has federal funding to study health disparities and how research can be applied to directly help communities, according to James Herbert Williams, interim executive director of the center, which is part of the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

“One thing we work at very hard is trying to understand what a community needs to address — and to be empowered to solve — problems,” said Williams, who is the Arizona Centennial Professor of Social Welfare Services. “We decided to come to South Phoenix so we can hear from you.”

Here’s what the experts said about food insecurity and nutrition:

Working with families

Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition, College of Health Solutions, ASU: I’ve been focusing on Hispanic families and how to promote healthy eating for prevention of chronic diseases, specifically on how to change behavior. A lot of people say, “You need to educate,” but we know that’s not enough to make people make better choices on what to buy, cook and eat. 

Our approach in recent years has been to focus on families, not individuals, and to look at factors to motivate people to change not only for themselves, but for other members of their families.

Lawrence Robinson, president of the governing board of the Roosevelt School District, described programs in his schools that include gardening, cooking and nutrition at the "Feeding Families" forum on Thursday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now


The pleasure of eating

Vega-López: I’ve been thinking about diet quality, not just food insecurity. We’ve been very good at getting the public very confused about what we shouldn’t eat. We’re starting to talk about whole foods and utilizing foods from farms and preparing more meals from scratch. We’re using simpler messages and focusing on the pleasure of food.

Lawrence Robinson, director of Leadership for Educational Equity and governing board president of the Roosevelt School District: We shouldn’t talk about food without saying that it’s delicious and people enjoy it. With food comes culture. At Lassen Elementary School, we gave the students a task to take one ingredient and go home and talk to their families about it. By the end of the project, they learned not only how to grow and cook and consume that ingredient but how it related to their families.

Then we had a dinner with all that produce. We shared the dinner together, and the kids shared their stories. People came together and were fed. They learned responsibility. And all of that made them healthier. If you cook it, they will come and hopefully it will transform the academic outcomes in our district.

Food and culture

Vega-López: We forget that traditional foods include a lot of healthy foods. A traditional Mexican diet is not what you see on the list of items at a Mexican restaurant. They eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and fish.

We can tell people that those are the foods they already know how to cook and they don’t need to invent new meals. They need to go back to their roots.

Robinson: This area is now a food desert, but I remember as a kid picking collard greens, with miles of fresh produce tended by African American families. You have the neighborhood that had the fresh food that now has obesity and diabetes and is deemed a food desert.

It’s now the policy of land use to wipe out the healthy, safe neighborhood culture that was just here a minute ago.

Shifting the conversation

John Wann-Ángeles, founding director of the Orchard Community Learning Center, a farm and educational organization based in South Phoenix: I’ve read about the "100 things we can do to reverse global warming." A plant-rich diet is No. 4 on the list, and we know a plant-based diet is the only one proven to reverse heart disease.

Why aren’t these questions at the center of school curriculum, not as add-ons? If this were the center of curriculum, a generation could change this conversation.

Federal policy effects

Angie Rodgers, president and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks, which serves 450,000 people per month: We have to recognize the role of the federal government. SNAPThe Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a federal program that provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families. feeds more than a million families but the benefits are so low, about $230 a month, that your choices are based on your pocketbook and not on what’s appropriate.

There are constant discussions about who should be able to buy what types of food, but until they raise the amount that allows it to be a true choice, we shouldn’t have conversations about restricting SNAP choices.

If you go into our food banks now you’ll find the result of the trade war — food the growers were unable to sell to governments like China, which includes pork and a significant amount of all dairy products. We’re thankful for the food. But we’ve received 24 million pounds of pork and dairy in the last eight months, and now you’ve changed the expectations and the palate of the clientele. Could we do that with fresh fruits and vegetables? We absolutely could.

Linda Rider, director of nutrition services at Tempe Elementary School District: The policy changed about 10 years ago to require more whole-grain foods. The current administration has taken a step back, and that’s frustrating because we work hard to make sure we have the right foods. We had that extra 6 cents in reimbursements for healthy foods, and when you take a step back, it will allow them to take back that reimbursement.

Feeding children in school

Rider: We’re in the process of putting salad bars in the serving line because of research we did with ASU. One of their great findings was that when you put salad bars in the serving line versus outside the line, kids will take more fruits and vegetables and actually eat them. When it’s outside the line, they already have their food and are too interested in talking to their friends.

Robinson: Getting farm to table is extremely hard for schools. You have to certify all the health and safety processes. And we’re required to accept the lowest bidder so we can’t buy locally sourced food if it’s not the lowest bid.

Top image: Sonia Vega-López, associate professor of nutrition in the College of Health Solutions at ASU, makes a point at the "Feeding Families" forum held by the Southwest Interdisciplinary Research Center in South Phoenix on May 2. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now


The future looks fun for outstanding grad who discovered joys of recreational therapy

May 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Having fun is a lifelong habit of Kelly Walsh. It’s important to her as a person aspiring to remain healthy and strong in her quest to help improve the lives of others. Kelly (with light complexion, brown hair, and pink and green floral blouse) smiles in Civic Space Park Kelly Walsh. Photo by Alexis Bojorquez Download Full Image

But now having fun for Walsh, the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Community Resources and Development in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, is also part of a framework for rigorous thought and scientific practice. Walsh, of New Hartford, Connecticut, intends to use her Bachelor of Science degree in parks and recreation management with a concentration in therapeutic recreation to help advance wellness of individuals and communities.

“At the end of the day,” Walsh said, “if you’re not having fun and you’re too stressed out about the work you’re doing, you’re not going to remember those days as being some of the better days of your life, you know?”

Walsh, who also earned a certificate in cross-sector leadership, has had fun at Arizona State University, while serving as a resident assistant on the Tempe campus, being part of the first cohort of the Next Generation Service Corps of the Public Service Academy, co-founding the Devils Spark Change service organization and being part of a team that qualified for a Woodside Grant that purchased equipment for therapeutic recreation at the Maricopa Reentry Center.

Fun as a recreational therapist is an entirely different category. It’s life-changing.

“How I do recreational therapy is to take a holistic approach to working with individuals to tackle any mental or physical barrier they may be having in their lives,” Walsh said.

Through internships and other programs and projects, Walsh has seen that approach work in multiple settings, including healthcare institutions, such as Barrow Neurological Institute, and correctional facilities, such as the Maricopa Reentry Center. Progress can come in the form of patients playing board games with family members or men in a conference room meeting a challenge to keep an inflated balloon from touching the floor.

Who knew?

Walsh didn’t. Not at first.

Walsh didn’t enroll at ASU to become a recreational therapist. At first, she thought she wanted to be a speech language pathologist but changed her mind after a few classes. An adviser picked up on Walsh’s interest in the Special Olympics and suggested a degree in nonprofit leadership management. That was another wrong path.

How about recreation therapy, the adviser asked. Walsh asked for an explanation of what that was and liked what she heard.

“That sounds like you get to make people have fun for a living, and that’s exactly what we do,” she recalls thinking. “I didn’t know you could do that as a profession. You get paid to teach other people how to play.”

There’s a need for play, said Walsh, whose parents instilled in her at a young age the importance of participating in diverse activities to maintain physical and mental health. Through her ASU experience, she now knows there’s a science behind therapeutic play and methods behind the practice.

She also fervently believes leisure and relaxation should be for everyone. Walsh has a particular interest in recreational therapy in correctional settings. Her immediate plans after graduation aren’t set in stone, but she has a career goal of using leisure to reduce recidivism rates.

“I believe all individuals have the right to leisure and that no citizen should be locked away without some form of outlet to cope with the circumstances they are in,” Walsh said. “When individuals are in correctional facilities, they suffer from prisonization, which essentially strips away their identity. I believe recreation helps bring people together and build individuals back up.”

Through her involvement with the Next Generation Service Corps, Walsh said she has spent a lot of time understanding what it means to be a character-driven leader. At the same time, her hands-on experiences in recreation therapy gave richer, deeper meaning to textbook knowledge. She connected it all to the care she was giving clients battling addiction, experiencing homelessness, adjusting to traumatic injury or learning how to live with a mental health diagnosis.

“I am excited to have developed a new love for learning in the past year that focuses on the worth of the materials being learned, but more importantly, how they are being translated in the communities we are serving,” Walsh said.

Walsh is interested in diving deeper into the research on recreational therapy. Recreational therapists need the education that comes from evidenced-based practice to deliver the treatment people need, she said, adding she’ll forever remember something instructor Kelly Ramella taught her about pursuing passion and earning respect for the profession:

“Recreational therapy is not the most accredited profession in the field,” she said. “We have to push through if we believe in the practice that we preach. And we have to make sure the other professions understand that we are credible and our clients see us as being a source in their recovery.”

Walsh’s best advice to students is not hard to guess: Seek knowledge and experiences beyond the classroom. Connect with people who have interests and perspectives unlike your own. Find places to experience new things and ideas.

And, of course, have fun.

Story by Jennifer Dokes

From senior master sergeant to master's degree, grad sees value of access to education

May 3, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Senior Master Sgt. Joshua Loescher takes to heart the universal truth that education is a great equalizer. He has seen it in action during his military career in places like Baghdad. He is also living proof. Joshua (light complexion with close-cropped blonde hair) stands in black uniform in front of Air National Guard fire truck and american flag Joshua Loescher. Download Full Image

“I’ve been able to go to other places in the world and see different things,” Loescher said. “Not all of it is good.”

But it can be better. Loescher firmly believes that.

“I am passionate about equity of opportunity and the role that education plays in that,” said Loescher, a Wisconsin Air National Guard fire chief. “Having witnessed the manifestation of the globalization of education and the equity in opportunity it provided me and others across the globe, I can’t help but be enamored by it.”

Loescher, who is graduating from Arizona State University with a master’s degree in public safety leadership and administration, is the spring 2019 outstanding interdisciplinary graduate for Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Loescher’s appreciation of access to education as a universal phenomenon grew when he saw how Iraqis and others struggled to learn what American military firefighters were assigned to teach. 

“They don’t know what they don’t know,” Loescher said. “The reason they were not very good at the job is because they didn’t have the opportunity to be good. They didn’t have the training. … These people aren’t inherently lazy. They inherently don’t have opportunity.”

Loescher could relate on a personal level. College opportunities were limited for a kid from rural Wisconsin with a high school academic record that was “less than stellar.” Online degree programs opened up a new world of possibilities for Loescher.

“You can find a bajillion statistics out there about how people that have attained bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees are smarter, healthier, they make more money, and they have a general overall better quality of life,” Loescher said.

“I made the choice to enlist in the military. I didn’t think it was right, that because I made a choice to go into the military as opposed to going to college, that I should have less opportunity than somebody else.”

Online degree programs offer opportunities “to do exactly what you want to do and when you want to do it,” Loescher said.

In 2017, Loescher earned his bachelor’s degree in fire science from American Military University, an online learning institution. He took just a few months off and then dived into the Watts College online master’s degree program.

Loescher credits ASU’s proactive approach to making college accessible for helping him become more of who he wants to be as a professional and a person. He said the master’s degree gives him a more complete understanding of how to manage an organization, which he believes will help him be a better fire chief and leader.

His capstone project already has the attention of high command. As part of his program, Loescher analyzed a major challenge of the dual federal and state budget processes that finance National Guard installations. National Guard units belong to states, but each installation’s base, buildings and equipment are owned by the federal government. The federal government pays states to fund National Guard firefighters.

The Air National Guard is interested in knowing the impact of converting firefighters from being federally funded employees to simply federal employees. Loescher provided some answers.

For each Air National Guard fire department, Loescher assessed costs and variables over five years. He then analyzed the leadership impacts from introducing such a major institutional change. His work is making its way up the Air National Guard chain of command, providing insight that could yield greater efficiencies in fire service administration and operations.

Loescher, who has three deployments and has earned 19 decorations during his military career, expects to apply what he has learned at ASU in service to others. Some ideas for the future include teaching at the college level and perhaps one more deployment, where he hopes to repeat making a positive difference training military firefighters.

But the overall goal for Loescher, a proud husband and father to three sons, is to continue to be someone who leads by “positive example of kindness, compassion, inclusion and understanding.”

“If you’re going to use your position to your advantage, you should use it because you know there’s a bunch of people watching you,” he said. “If you just do the things you’re supposed to do and you’re nice to people and you work hard, then that will tell people who are watching you that, ‘It worked out for that guy. Look at him; he’s a fire chief. If it worked for him, it will probably work out for me, too.’”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Master of Social Work grad draws from history and legacy to help others

May 2, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Jennifer Harrison’s master’s degree in social work bears proof she has the training and knowledge to be an effective professional. But the summa cum laude graduate of Arizona State University will put so much more than that into her career of helping people. Jennifer Harrison (medium complexion with long dark hair, wearing native american turquoise jewelry and a dark teal dress) sits before a gray and white woven Native American tapestry Jennifer Harrison. Download Full Image

In service to American Indian communities and in staying true to herself, Harrison, of Gallup, New Mexico, will draw from history and legacy in pressing forward in a career in social work. Restoring a strong foundation of tradition and the ceremonies taught by elders “that guide us in our life journeys,” she said, is important in addressing the historical trauma found at the root of modern-day suffering among some American Indians.

Harrison, a first-generation college graduate, is the spring 2019 outstanding graduate for the School of Social Work in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Scholarship and leadership are hallmarks of Harrison’s career at ASU, where she also received her bachelor’s degree. She earned her master’s degree through scholarships from the Navajo Nation and the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute. She is the president of the American Indian Social Work Student Association and has been active in ASU campus conversations about diversity and inclusion.

Christopher Sharp, a project coordinator in the School of Social Work’s Office of American Indian Projects, said he has enjoyed watching Harrison apply skills that have made an impact at the university and in the community.

“She is self-confident and can advocate, but in a humble way,” Sharp said, adding that she exceeds expectations in leadership. He believes that will continue as she pursues her passion of tribal child welfare and becomes a leader in that field. “She’ll be an asset to the community that she works with."

Last fall, she coordinated a powerful signature event for Native American Heritage Month featuring a pre-release screening of “Blood Memory” and a discussion with Sandy White Hawk, one of the main subjects in the documentary about the U.S. Indian Adoption Era. The “Blood Memory” event was designed to raise awareness about the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, which is under legal challenge. Harrison is a strong advocate of that act, often referred to as the “gold standard” in child welfare policy.

The Indian Child Welfare Act was a response to an alarmingly high rate of forced removal of American Indian children from their traditional homes. Those child removal and adoption practices, like the U.S. policy of forcibly removing children from their homes and into government-run boarding schools, was considered another in a series of attempts to eradicate American Indian culture and customs.

Harrison, the mother of a young son, knows the value of culture and customs. She believes values handed down by her elders helped her overcome challenges and obstacles to her success, including the oppressive grief of losing a parent and grandparent and the culture shock of moving from a small town to a big city far from family.  

Those same values are helping Harrison raise her son and to be a community leader where needed. When she moved to Phoenix three years ago, she had no idea leadership and volunteer roles with Cub Scouts and youth sports would be such a big part of her life.

Harrison came to be a social worker by way of studying nursing and then nearly becoming a physical therapist.

“My family is like, ‘Stick to one thing.’ But no, 'I want to do this, and this and this,'” Harrison said.

Everything she wanted to do was in what someone called a “helping profession.” A helper is who Harrison is at her core.

“I found out about social work and saw that’s exactly what I want to do, not the medical aspect but the advocacy aspect of it,” Harrison said.

Harrison got a taste of advocacy work by volunteering with the Court Appointed Special Assistant program. While she intends to concentrate on Indian Child Welfare Act advocacy, she does entertain future plans of earning a doctoral degree in social work or perhaps becoming a guardian ad litem — a guardian appointed by a court to protect the interests of a minor or other vulnerable individual — which could put her on a path to attend law school.

There is no shortage of areas to help, Harrison realizes, but there is success with commitment. She encourages those still in school to stay focused and dig deep.

“It’s possible to reach your dream,” Harrison said. “Don’t give up on it. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

Change maker hopes to use public policy to live university charter long after graduation

May 2, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Aly Perkins’ academic transcript bears the look of a young scholar in a hurry to get to the next level. Her success in advanced placement classes gave her a large head start in college. The Arizona State University graduate completed her bachelor’s degree in three years. Aly Perkins (light complexion with medium brown hair, wears sleeveless dress, maroon mortar board, maroon and gold cords, and gold stole of gratitude) stands smiling in front of Arizona Capitol building Aly Perkins. Photo by Nicole Hernandez Download Full Image

But Perkins does more with her time than most. While the pace of her academic career is impressive, it’s the passion behind all of her pursuits and the impact of her efforts that set her apart. During her relatively short stint at ASU, Perkins, of San Clemente, California, spent two sessions as an Arizona Senate page, was elected to student senate and then president of the Downtown Phoenix campus and made academic program history at ASU by becoming the first student to create a course certificate that will help advance an early understanding of law.

The brilliant thinker is a change maker. She’s also the spring 2019 outstanding graduate from Barrett, The Honors College, earning her degree from the School of Public Affairs in Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.
“Aly is someone who can change the world in a positive way. I think she already has,” said Joanna Lucio, associate dean of academic affairs for Watts College. “She’s someone who is so passionate about what she does. The effort she puts into her work really just shows how passionate she is.”

Three years ago, Perkins was on a path to advance her water polo career to the collegiate level. But, as is her habit, she examined many possibilities.

“There was something about ASU that made me reconsider my options and attend school without continuing with water polo,” Perkins said. “The Honors college especially was a big draw for me.”

Perkins is always drawn to a challenge. The motivation behind all those AP classes wasn’t to earn college credits, although that was a nice bonus. Perkins said she just wanted the academic challenge.

She got two other bonuses in enrolling in the School of Public affairs. Both were unexpected.

First, she recalls welcoming remarks from Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell who touted the ASU Charter.

“I remember thinking to myself, ‘This is interesting. I wasn’t really expecting this coming here. My goal was to just get a degree and go to law school. I’m not sure what the public service element has to do with anything. I’m kind of confused by the emphasis on inclusivity.’

“But, really, the work that I’ve been able to do with both student government and just being in the school environment for three years has really taught me the importance of that inclusivity,” Perkins said. “I don’t view society the same any more. My worldview is different.”

Different, she said, in a way that makes her hopeful and concerned.

“I’m going to try to do my part to make sure the philosophy of the charter is carried out past ASU,” Perkins said.

The second unexpected bonus came when she dove into her course of study.

“I chose public policy in particular because I always knew I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “To me, it felt like this degree program would be the best fit for preparing me for law school, but it turns out that I love public policy for what it is so much more than I ever anticipated.”

There’s enough love for public policy and ASU for Perkins to want to spend time more time in the Valley. Upon graduation, she’ll work in the ASU Office of Government and Community Relations. Law school can wait a few years, she said.

Perkins has no strong desire to become a lawyer. Her determination to go to law school comes from a realization early in life about the impact laws have on individuals and society.

“[The law] is applicable to everyone’s life,” Perkins said. “Whether or not you pay attention to it, it doesn’t matter because it’s paying attention to you. The way it touches everyone’s life is really interesting to me.”

Spending time at the Arizona Capitol, getting an up close and personal look at political process and policy development, reinforced that impression.

“I don’t have a particular [law] specialization in mind. I don’t even want, at this point, to even practice law as your typical lawyer. I really want to be a lobbyist or an advocate with a JD.”

Lucio, who was Perkins’ honors thesis chairperson, thinks ahead five or 10 years to whatever challenge Perkins has in her sights. The possibilities seem endless.

“She can do anything,” Lucio said. “But I see her making successful change in government policies. She’s going to law school so she can really learn the tools that she needs … to work in the government in some capacity. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s state or federal government fighting for changes that need to be done.”

Story by Jennifer Dokes

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Criminal justice reforms will require changes in culture, experts say

Criminal justice reform will take courage, broad changes, ASU experts say.
April 30, 2019

More treatment, shorter sentences among recommendations at ASU panel

Crime is down in Arizona but more people are in prison, and confronting that issue will require a broad range of changes plus a lot of courage, according to a group discussion on criminal justice reform held on Tuesday by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

“Some people will say that crime is down because we’re locking up the bad guys, but others will argue just as passionately that we’re wasting money by locking up people at a time when crime is down,” said Dan Hunting, senior policy analyst for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, which is part of Arizona State University.

“There’s a lot of discussion about this in academic circles. It’s a very complex issue.”

The discussion, held at the Downtown Phoenix campus, was based on the 2018 initiative of Arizona Town Hall, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that educates and engages people to solve problems. Last year, the group addressed criminal justice reform, holding a statewide town hall and producing a report that was edited by Hunting. He covered some of the highlights of the report at Tuesday’s talk:

• Since 2006, violent crime has decreased 20% and property crime has decreased 36%.

• The state’s population has doubled since 1987 but the prison population has increased 3.5 times.

• The estimated cost of the criminal justice system is $525 per person per year in Arizona.

• Arizona has the fourth highest incarceration rate in the country at 585 incarcerated people per 100,000 population.

Recommendations from the statewide town hall included:

• Focus on evidence-based decision making.

• Provide early interventions to keep people out of prison.

• Establish a statewide task force to determine best practices.

• Encourage the Legislature to reinstate laws requiring cost comparisons between private prisons and those run by the Arizona Department of Corrections.

• Create and fund an adequate number of inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities.

At Tuesday’s talk, a panel of experts discussed the recommendations.

Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU, said he was surprised about the recommendation on comparing costs for privately and state-run prisons.

“If we were to go down that road, the research is mixed,” he said. “It takes us further away from the right question to be asked: Why do we have so many people in prison?”

The public doesn’t always grasp the ramifications of long prison sentences, they said.

“On paper you can add up any number of years … think about where you were five years ago in your life. Think about 10 years, 20 years. I think it’s way too much time,” said Wright, who is director of the Center for Correctional Solutions, a year-old unit in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice devoted to research, education and community outreach.

Wright said the research describes an “age crime curve.”

“People peak in criminal behavior in their 20s and then decline rapidly,” he said. “When you’re incarcerating people in their 50s, 60s, 70s, in terms of public safety, what are you doing?” 

Khalil Rushdan, community partnerships coordinator for ACLU Arizona, makes a point during the audience discussion at a panel discussion on criminal justice reform on Tuesday. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Paul O’Connell, operations director of the Community Corrections Bureau of the Arizona Department of Corrections, said that Arizona is a “truth in sentencing” state, meaning that prisoners must serve 85% of their sentence no matter what. And that leaves much less time for supervision and support for people on parole after they leave prison and try to reenter their communities.

“If their risk level is minimum, we see them only twice, and if they’re really bad, we see them six times,” he said.

“We have this person coming out after 20 years not knowing how to get a job or take the bus. What I would like to see is have them serve more time under community supervision so we get to work with them, build relationships and do a better job.”

O’Connell said that addressing criminal justice reform must be a broad effort.

“There’s more to public safety than locking people up. Public safety is better roads, better education, stronger families.

“It’s not just a criminal justice problem, it’s a societal problem. It takes courage to initiate these recommendations. That’s where the battle lies.”

Wright said he frequently encounters two myths about the criminal justice system.

“Some people want to lock people away and forget about them and not care what happens to them while they’re in prison,” he said.

“The statistic is that 95% of people who go to prison will return to their communities. They will be your future neighbors. Why do you want them to be worse than when they went in?”

And while the criminal justice system costs $1 billion a year in Arizona, Wright said that more resources are needed for people who work with prisoners.

“Whatever you think about why people engage in criminal behavior, we couldn’t figure it out on the outside and then we put them in one place and ask this one department to figure it out with limited resources,” he said.

“It should be one of the most important jobs in America and yet as someone who educates people who will go into these professions, it’s not. It’s low pay. People use it as a springboard to something else. We have to devote more resources and think differently.”

Ron Reinstein, a judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court and a former judge, said that legislators typically know little about the criminal justice system and have been a missing voice in the discussion on reform.

“What’s really important is the business community — they haven’t weighed in enough,” he said.

Wright said that academic voices also need to be heard because they’re the ones who produce the evidence that everyone wants to see used in decision-making.

“We collect the evidence and make sense of the evidence and say, ‘I don’t care what the answer is. I just want to produce the answer.’”

And the public needs to hear from incarcerated people themselves. Wright wrote the chapter on reentry and recidivism in the Arizona Town Hall report. A few years ago, his center trained men who were incarcerated to interview their peers in prison.

“They interviewed over 400 guys in six weeks,” he said. “It’s their own words of what motivated them and led them to fulfilling lives. It’s not just rewarding positive behavior. It’s setting up sustainable and fulfilling lifestyles.”

After the panel discussion, the audience discussed potential solutions, including addressing homelessness and restoring voting rights for ex-offenders, funding more treatment centers and eliminating barriers to family communication with incarcerated people — like expensive fees for phone calls.

Khalil Rushdan, the community partnerships coordinator with the ACLU of Arizona, said that a “punitive culture” in the state leads to overcharging people.

“We need leaders who are willing to change this culture, and that goes to the county attorney’s office,” he said.

“And before we give one more dollar to the (Department of) Corrections, we should have more transparency and an audit to see where these dollars are going.”

Top image: A panel of experts discussed criminal justice reform at a panel discussion at the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus. From left: Paul O'Connell, operations director for the Arizona Department of Corrections Community Corrections Bureau; Ron Reinstein, a judicial consultant for the Arizona Supreme Court and a former judge; and Kevin Wright, an associate professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at ASU and the director of the Center for Correctional Solutions. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now